the Mammal Chronicles: June 2006

when it comes right down to it, ya lactate or ya don't.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just in Case...

I was helping mom pack and found a black turban. "Do you want this?" I asked skeptically. Her reply? "I want to keep it just in case I get cancer." I started laughing uncontrollably, to which she countered, "It would be a lot of trouble to go out and buy a hat." Can't argue with that!

Monday, June 19, 2006

No Tote

The family and I are in San Diego at a conference. It's the "Civic Learning Institute" sponsored by the state university system I work for. The hotel is surprisingly nice for something sponsored by a state university, though they didn't provide a tote at registration, only a binder. A truly good conference provides one with a complimentary tote. My boss says at one conference she even got a mug. Oooh.

I like conferences and workshops. I'm a workshop whore, if truth be told. Taking workshops makes me feel productive and I'm very susceptible to getting charged up about whatever the topic is.

Today, during "team time," we talked about how to incorporate service-learning into our department. Service-learning, if you're unfamiliar with the term, involves doing a service project in the community that is specifically tied to course content. The two other people who are here from my department were set on what I consider a pretty tepid approach: one that was not only optional but conducted primarily through the student club rather than through the classes themselves. They also didn't see doing s-l in the first year of our course sequence, even though this whole conference is geared toward enriching a college student's "first-year experience." Some of their concerns were understandable:

* It is difficult to coordinate a service project during a ten week quarter and still maintain other course content
* The courses in our second year sequence are more directly tied to contemporary civic issues than our first year sequence, which deals primarily with ancient texts

But I think it's a great opportunity to help students tie themes from the ancient texts to contemporary experience, and studies show that s-l can be very powerful in a college student's first year -- and I knew how to make it work. I am, by the way, the only one in my department who has actually implemented a service learning project in any of our classes, so I do think I have some basis for being able to speak with a little bit of authority. I was a little nervous though, because I never, NEVER manage to convince anyone else of my ideas in my department -- never mind, for example, that I am the only one with professional training in the arts, they never listen to my ideas about the arts component of our program.

Still, this time, I think I almost managed. They started to shut me down and I nudged them back toward my idea, tried to explain how it could work. I think they may even be considering it, though I am afraid to hope. I've been shut down and disappointed too many times.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


My mother has been living with us for about five years now. It was supposed to be a year, until my sister was ready to take her, but a year became five and here we are. By the time my sister, who's never helped with her care and rarely does what she says she will, finally said she was ready to take her and my mother agreed, I cried.

Of course, given how much my mother regularly drives me crazy, it didn't take long for sadness to turn to relief. For example, there was the day my husband noticed my infant daughter smelled strongly of maple. "Did you give her pancakes?" he asked my mother. "Why?" she asked, "Did she throw up?" As if that was the only reason why giving my daughter pancakes soaked in aspartame-sweetened syrup would be a bad idea. Or there are the many times my mom, despite my repeated pleas not to, dangles a piece of jewelry or something else with small, removable parts in front of my daughter and I have to leap in to snatch it away before my daughter puts it in her mouth.

We squabble a lot. Sometimes it is about my daughter, but often it is about her diabetes and what she shouldn't eat. She thinks I am controlling and that I delight in making an old woman suffer (she doesn't remember all the days she's passed out, fallen to the ground, or been incoherent because she's sent her blood sugar out of whack). I think she is stubborn and selfish and doesn't love me.

Then she does something like this: I was napping on the couch today and woke up to find her gently putting a baby blanket over me. And I remember all the times she has done that over the years.

It's enough to get me through another five years. But I don't have five years; she leaves for Florida this fall.

My child will be safe from syrup and small parts, but my heart will be a little broken.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Happy New Year

Today was graduation day and my fondest desire was that the academic year be reformed to coincide with the calendrical year. Don't get me wrong: I like the pomp of commencement, I just don't care for the circumstance. The circumstance being Pomona in June.

As I've mentioned before, it's hot here in Pomona, and if you've ever worn traditional graduation gear, you know what a miserable day it can be. In years past I've carried blue ice underneath the generous folds of my gown. One particularly vain year (the occasion of my own doctoral hooding) I even put antiperspirant on my face. This year, given it was unseasonably overcast and breezy in the morning, I did neither. I was sorry. By 4 o'clock as we processed across the university quad, the sun came merrily out of hiding. To make matters worse, while every other professor's seat had a bottle of chilled water beneath it, somehow I ended up in the row just behind the ones they'd allocated for us.

I never actually graduated from high school. In the middle of the eleventh grade I tested out and got an equivalency certificate. So my undergraduate graduation was the first actual commencement I participated in. I remember the first time I saw all the professors parading forth in their doctoral gowns and hoods and funny hats. My only thought was that I wanted to wear one of those outfits. Believe it or not, it was that thought that kept me going through six years of graduate school during moments when all other value the Ph.D. had for me had dissipated to nothing. I'd waited to wear it for that many years -- do you blame me for being vain enough on that day that I covered my face in antiperspirant? But be careful what you wish for: I'm now doomed to wear that ensemble annually during the hottest days of the year.

Still, you'd think that given my affection for the outfit that by now I'd have purchased the official blue velvet robes and plush, puffy hat of my alma mater instead of making do with the generic, wrinkled black polyester set the university of my employ rents for me each year. In actuality, I've never worn them. Even on the big day of my hooding I wore rented duds. There's the cost for one thing -- well over $500 even if I buy a knock-off and getting higher every year I wait. I'm also paranoid: what if I buy it and I don't get tenure? I'm too superstitious to risk jinxing it.

Of course, the way things are going, there's every chance that by the time I do get tenure I'll be so disgusted with the academic system I'll leave the profession and won't need them. Besides, now my daughter is in the picture: why spend upwards of $500 on an outfit for me when it could buy her a really amazing swing set or her own carnival bouncy?

But if my employer ever stops paying for the rental, I might make the jump. Until then, it's once a year in a wrinkled gown. And next time I won't forget the blue ice.